Tape stuck in camcorder?

By | 22nd February 2015

Have you discovered an old video camera with a tape stuck inside? The good news is that there’s usually a way to get the tape out and copy the contents onto a modern playable format such as DVD or MP4 video file.

Broken Sony camcorder

The three main defects we see that make it difficult to retrieve a tape from a camcorder are:

  • Lack of suitable power – battery failure or missing AC adapter/leads
  • Mechanical failure – either through lack of use or physical damage
  • Electronic component failure – parts such as diodes inside the camera have failed

The following information is based on our own experience in dealing with old, non-working and otherwise scrap video cameras where the tape inside is much more important that the camcorder itself. If you intend removing your tape and having a working camcorder afterwards then you should send it to a repair facility.

Dealing with lack of power

Old batteries may appear to be charging up but often they’re completely useless and no amount of charging will get them working – that’s if you still have the original charger! You should really try to power your camera via an AC adapter. If that doesn’t work and you have limited electrical knowledge then stop right there – you could make things worse!

If you are fully competent dealing with electronics then you can check the output from the AC adapter with a multimeter. All AC adapters have an output rating – use a meter to verify the unit is working correctly. If it has failed then you could try to source a second hand replacement or wire up a different power supply with a similar output. Often a PP3 9v battery (wired correctly) will suffice as a temporary measure to eject a tape.

Mechanical and electrical camcorder failure

Camcorders contain lots of gears, levers and bits that slide around against each other. If it doesn’t get used for a period of time then the components can become seized – either through corrosion or the lubricant drying out – you’d be surprised at the amount of grease found inside the average video camera!

Sometimes all it takes is a bit of persuasion to get things moving again. There’s an old engineering phrase, ‘If in doubt, give it a clout’ – obviously don’t smash it to bits (yet) but a short firm slap can help free up an otherwise stuck eject mechanism and if you’re lucky the tape will pop out.

Internal electronic failure is quite common. A faulty diode worth 10p can render an expensive camera completely unusable. The bad news is that component level diagnostics and repairs are beyond most people except dedicated electronics engineers with specialist knowledge. Accessing the parts to test them almost always involves a complete strip down of the unit. i.e. Most of us don’t stand a chance. If your camera has a ‘reset button’ tucked away in a recess then try pushing that with a paper clip – it can fix some glitches.

For certain Sony models, which may display an error code on screen, there is a method that may eject the tape. Open the outer mechanical tape door fully. Remove the battery/AC power chord. Either push the ‘reset button’ with a paper clip or locate and remove the backup battery (button cell). With the outer door still fully open refit the battery or connect to AC power. This process should trigger the eject mechanism.

Plan B – Pull it to bits!

Jump starting with a PP3 didn’t work, a short sharp smack didn’t work and you’re not an electronics wizard. It’s time to consider stripping the camera down to access and recover the tape. This is a fiddly process involving lots of tiny screws and firm precise amounts of levering, pushing and twisting of metal parts. There’s no set method – every make of video camera is built a different way and requires a careful and considered approach to avoid causing any unnecessary damage to the cassette inside.

Remember – don’t do this if you ever want the unit to work again!

Start by looking at the door covering the eject mechanism.The aim here is to try to access and open the door. Remove all screws and try to get the door off. If it doesn’t come off easily then check for more screws! They hide them all over the place – even under stickers so watch out for that. Remove any flaps or covers at and around the door opening area. You may find that the body of the camera comprises of outer shell sections – these may also need to be removed to see the entire tape mechanism – that means a lot more screws to remove and possibly a few ribbon cables.

Try to locate the eject mechanism drive gears – this is not easy as they’re tiny and often buried behind the cassette. Worm and wheel units can sometimes be manually turned without much effort. Cam and gear assemblies can also be persuaded to move the gentle prying. Whatever you do try to avoid prying or levering against the cassette itself. It should be possible to get the door to open but don’t be tempted to yank the cassette straight out – the tape itself may still be spooled around the transport mechanism and head drum. Examine the tape path closely as you gently withdraw the cassette – if it’s looped around any spools or posts then use a tool to guide it over them. You may also need to guide the moving parts of the cassette (flap/dust cover) through the cage/door assembly – don’t force it.

If the cage type assembly holding the cassette in place is preventing it from being withdrawn cleanly then you should be able to partially strip it to make removal of the tap easier. They usually have a series of very small screws holding them together. Take out all that you can see. This usually loosens up the cage allowing the cassette to move around. If you’ve removed all the screws or they’re not visible then you can cut the pressed steel parts with suitable tin snips.

Plan C – Send it to us

We appreciate that some people really don’t want to risk tackling this sort of thing themselves. The good news is that we have many years experience of removing stuck tapes from old and damaged camcorders.

Please note: We don’t fix camcorders and we can’t guarantee to recover stuck tapes without damaging either the camera or the cassette itself. However, we can repair snapped, chewed up or broken tapes and copy them onto newer digital formats should that be required.

The cost of retrieving a stuck tape in most cases is usually no more than £20.00. If the tape itself is damaged and needs repairing then that costs an extra £20.00. You’ll then need to add these fees to the standard cost for transferring the tape to DVD.

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